Did you know that rats, particularly domesticated “fancy rats” are available in many parts of Canada as pets? Much like a hamster, these little guys are cute and charming companions. My family has a history of having pet rats, starting with my Father.
Before I was born, my Dad had a rat named Studley. He would tell me about how Studly would accompany him on walks, and even swims, and that he was just The Best Rat Ever. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, rats are cute. Look at this ‘lil guy!
So, one Easter morning in the mid to late 90’s, when we were living in New Brunswick, my little sister and I awoke and ran into the den, where we found the usual candy, chocolate, and little toys awaiting us. After surveying our treasures, our parents peeked into the room and asked if we’d observed the cage yet. We had a large cage on one side of the room which, until recently, had been home to our rather grumpy rabbit, Peter. While Peter was quite old and sadly didn’t make it till Easter, I gazed inside and saw that two new friends were quietly exploring the cage.
My sister and I were delighted and each named one of the rats- we decided to name them after the Rugrats, Tommy and Chuckie. Tommy was my rat, and he was white with grayish markings on his back. Chuckie, my sister’s rat, had a more reddish tinge to his spots (like Chuckie’s hair!)
The rats were so adorable- while many of our family and friends who visited were squeamish of them (particularly of their tails), others would remark at how cutely they munched on their food, how diligently they cleaned themselves, and how curious and smart they were. We would let them crawl over and around us, and they loved perching on our shoulders as we watched TV or did our homework. The two were brothers, and would sleep nestled up curled around each other.
We loved our rats very much. Domesticated rats live longer than their wild counterparts- about 3 years. Tommy and Chuckie both passed away of “old age” within short time of each-other, and it was one of my first real-life experiences with the end of the natural cycle of life and death.
A short while after Tommy and Chuckie died, my parents got us two new companions to fill the rat-shaped holes in our hearts. I asserted my tween power and declared their names would forever be known as Frodo and Sam, as I was in the middle of reading The Lord of the Rings and enjoying it immensely.
Our new rats were again white with some grayish colorations. Frodo was my little guy, and he was very active, always climbing things and wanting to have a look around. Sam was a bit lazier, but again they were best buddies as well as brothers. Sometimes we would give them pieces of French Toast Crunch cereal, and laugh at how cute they looked crunching on their little rat-sized toasts.
After we’d had Frodo and Sam for a little while, our parents informed us that we were moving to Northern Alberta, to a province far away in the middle of the Boreal Forest. I pictured us living in a quaint little wooden cottage in the middle of nowhere. Great! Sounds fun! But, although my parents didn’t want to alarm us, they mentioned that rats are banned in Alberta. While this policy is meant to keep Alberta free of wild rats, it affects pet rats too.
This poster is so dramatic. “White rats can only be kept by zoos, universities and colleges as well as recognized research institutions in Alberta. Private citizens may not keep white rats, hooded rats or any of the strains of domesticated Norway rats.” – Alberta.ca
My family is united and defined, perhaps more than anything else, by our love of animals. My Mom has worked at vet clinics and at the SPCA, and we’ve had all sorts of creatures in our home over the years. Our pets are our family, and it was inconceivable to us that we wouldn’t bring the rats to our new home in Alberta. So, we prepared ourselves for Frodo and Sam’s potentially perilous journey.
My Mom actually had both of the rats anesthetized and neutered at her vet clinic (I’m thinking this procedure, for pet rats, is a medical rarity?)- they were both boys, but now there was no possible way they could breed even if they somehow escaped into the wild. I suppose she did this partly so that if we DID get into any trouble at the airport, we’d have at least a chance of keeping them.
So, we finally set out to move, with a large number of critters. Each of us was responsible for at least one pet-carrier, and we took our babies to the airport- a cockatiel (Jerrie), 2 cats (Jill and Smudge), an aging Labrador Retriever (Stinker), and the two rats.
The rats’ carrier was made of thick plastic with thin slots on the sides. Panic gripped me as we approached the security gate to get cleared for our first flight. I watched in terror as the airport staff inspected the carrier, peering inside and craning his head.
He looked at me quizzically. I steeled myself.
“My hamsters.” I squeaked.
Whether it was an act of mercy on his part, ignorance of rodent species diversity (or the regulations of our destination province), apathy, or simply not wanting to initiate a dramatic scene, he let us through without any difficulties. I can only imagine the absolute chaos that would have ensued if they had tried to take away our Frodo and Sam. It would have been devastating and traumatic for our whole family, and probably the entire room…
And so, we made it to our new home, safe and sound with our entire family, including the rats. We settled into life in Alberta. You might think that Frodo and Sam, once they lived out their few years on this earth with us, were the last rats my family would know in our new home province. However, this was not the case…
My mom continued to work in SPCA and vet roles in our new town, and as had always happened before, we often ended up fostering or adopting animals that didn’t have homes. And wouldn’t you know it, it turned out that other people in Alberta had pet rats, and in some cases (such as moving into an apartment with an inquisitive landlord) they needed to re-home their rats.
In steps my Mom, of course- she can’t bear to see an animal in need- and so over the years we acquired three more rat companions. One was a lone rat who we named Sir William after the character in A Knight’s Tale. Bill, or Billiam, as I often called him, was white with black spots, and had the softest and sweetest temperament of any rat I’ve yet met. Later we also became the guardians of two sister rats named Sugar and Spice for their respective fur markings.
I’m still living in Alberta, but my family has since gotten a home back in New Brunswick- they’ve had more rats since moving back. I haven’t myself, but I’d be willing to bet that there are more pet rats in Alberta living out their quiet lives in secrecy today.